A Little Advice by Chris Semansky
published in Volume 4, Issue 1 on September 4th, 1997 First thing you've got to do is be
real. That's what they like more than anything. Let's
face it, women can afford to be a hell of a lot more
choosy than us. In a lifetime the average female's got
what . . . three, four hundred eggs tops? And they want
the best available shot at farming them buggers,
introducing them to the spunkiest little seed. Women's
entire bodies are into this hi-frequency fit, screaming
at them to choose well and to choose right. Believe me,
most of the time they take one look at you and can tell
within five minutes whether you've got the steps it
takes. Most of the time.Take
Valentina. She's in admin, likes her men smart. Not
necessarily MENSA smart, but quick, you know, clever,
witty. Men who'll make a little effort. When I first
started trying with her she was like, you've got to be
kidding, what do you think I am, some kind of pool hall
floozette? Some Taco Bell fry girl juicing for a raise?
Some kid? This is Valentina Tramontana, buster, and I
rank. You want? You've got to come and get, and don't be
sloppy about it either. The senior prom this is not. So I
back off, chalk up the encounter to a minor
miscalculation -- it happens sometimes -- which, with
proper attention, can be repaired.
Next time I see her's in the cafeteria.
She's loading up on a deep dish lunch salad and lingering
over the garlic-flavored croutons when I catch her
looking my way. Okay, glancing my way, her baby blues
shifting quickly back to the broccoli florets then to the
sneeze guard. That's all I need, I think, just enough
reason to stay in the hunt. I re-focus on my hardback,
The Moral Animal, nodding ever so slightly to myself,
showing, not telling her, that I've got the mental
resources it takes. When she passes I look up just long
enough to give her that pinched far-away smile. I am,
after all, deep in thought.
Next day I borrow my cousin's kid,
stick the little papoose in a handwoven Guatemalan sack
on my back and mill around my desk, opening drawers,
shuffling papers, smacking myself on the forehead in a
show of frustration over some lost item or other. Before
long there's a crowd to rival any presidential greeting
line. Whether twenty-two or fifty, they come, to pet, to
google-eye, to ooh and aahh, do the cutsie-tootsie around
the kid. "What's his name? Aw, look at hid liddu
chin. Can I howd him, just a liddu bit? He looks just
like you. I didn't know you were married."
"Well, I'm not. Actually, I'm
thinking of a single-parent adoption and got the kid on a
special two-hour lease."
"Oh, you're funny too."
There's nothing like displaying a
little male parental investment possibility around the
tribe to see what crops up. Everyone I think will bite,
bites. Except Val. She plays it cool, keeping her eyes on
the monitor, her long fingers pecking away. Doesn't
matter. Long as you pile up the signals, in time
something will break. You just have to be there for it.
Last thing I do before leaving that day is send her an
e-mail apologizing for the way I acted last week and
pledging to be a respectful colleague from here on out.
"I'm smitten, I said, not stupid."
The way I got it figured women want a
guy who shows at least a promise of stability. A little
status doesn't hurt either, but you can finagle that.
Good looks aren't that important. What you've absolutely
got to know, get down pat, though, is the code. Otherwise
you're just dealing with unorganized reactive intuition,
and you may as well be pissing in the wind.
Take the competition. Now conventional
wisdom might hold that everything else being equal women
will go for the joe who emerges from the pack, the one
who distinguishes himself from the rest. They may not
know it but their cells are mumbling to them that this is
the guy to invest in, the one to get a little gamete
action going with. They don't put it in those words,
exactly. Hell, they might not even want anything
long-term with Mr. Alpha Male, might consciously think of
him only as a welcome substitute for afternoon aerobics.
But their genes, their genes are humming a different
Problem is, women today have evolved to
such a point that they can think one move ahead of most
men. Some of them are so complex that they ignore the
alpha altogether and go for the little weeny who can
recite Wordsworth by heart, or who can tell you the best
time of year to plant plum tomatoes. How are we supposed
to deal with that?
To outmaneuver today's nineties' woman
you've got to pay attention to how, not what, you think.
I mean if male minds are more or less an account of the
adaptive behavior of women through history, and their
minds a register of ours, it pays to know what's up in
your own head as well as theirs, right? It only makes
Say you got a ripe one. She knows it
and you know it. You're both doing the eye-to-eye tango
across the office, only thing is when you try to shoot
the gap she closes down, feigns myopia or something,
turns frosty and dull. What do you do, turn off the juice
and wait for number two? Not unless your cajones have
gone high and tight. Face it, compared to the payoff
she's after, the energy we put into springing Johnny
Appleseed amounts to no more than a slow wink on a windy
Next time I see Val it's obvious she's
soaked up some of my moves. She smiles coyly when she
passes my desk and I give her this contemplative
half-smile in return. It's not much but it shows that I'm
open, that there's a strong chance I'm still interested.
An hour later she shoots me an in-house message over the
network: "Coffee a fter work?" I nod without
even looking up.
When she suggests dinner instead, I
know I've got her cold. It's just a matter of restraint,
I tell myself, of letting her spin it out. She shows up
at Tefelio's in a low-cut black number that'd stop the
Pope in the middle of Easter Mass. I give her a polite
hello and tell her how I've decided to take up Buddhism
and renounce all my earthly desires.
"Uh-huh," she says. "So
what you're saying is that I should've gone for the
ankle-length brown number?"
"Two glasses of your best
Chardonnay," I tell the waiter.
Two bottles and a few good steaks later
we're playing footsies a go-go under the table. At her
place we do things I haven't even heard about in locker
rooms. I'm talking contact-sport city. After our love
tussle and the requisite string of endearments that
follows we take a long walk along the beach. But
something happens. She clams up. Doesn't say a thing for
close to an hour. I'm thinking okay, she's probably
waiting for me to make some grand pronouncement or mutter
something about my overwhelming desire for her, how I've
never met anyone as intriguing or lovely or smart or
anyone with teeth as clean and white as hers. Thing is,
once you do that, they only expect more. That's how it
At her door she hands me my sweater and
gives me this eentsy little peck on the cheek, whispering
something I don't catch.
"I said I only wish it were
better," she repeats.
"Oh, it was wonderful," I
say. "Incredible. I mean what we did in that bed,
hmmmm hmmm. If we did that stuff in public they'd scratch
synchronized swimming from the olympic menu and stick our
performance in there instead. Course, they'd have to come
up with a name for it first."
"I meant for me," she says,
lowering her head.
"For you?" I repeat to
myself, trying to gauge her drift.
"Oh, it was okay," she says.
"But you know, I just thought that after the wait
and . . . well, never mind. Maybe I just expect too
I stand there a little stunned, trying
to process this latest turn, calculate my response. But
the little acreage I thought I had won all of a sudden
turns muddy and I'm flapping around in the puddle,
grasping for an arm to pull me out. I feel like I did
when I was sixteen and Mary Ann Kuchinsky told me Stevie
Emmons called her a slut and what was I going to do about
it. I walked right up to that punk and cold-cocked him on
the ear, and when he turned around I rammed my
elbow half-way down his throat before he could blink,
then gut-punched him till he fell on the ground puking.
Mary Ann sat on her porch watching the whole thing. As I
stood over Stevie, kicking him in the ass while he
wretched, Mary Ann got up and walked in the house. Before
she slammed the door she yelled to me, "You stupid
fuck, that's not what I meant!" I've spent the
better part of my adult years learning just what it is
they do mean, but for some reason here I am in the
doorway of this woman's apartment, slopping around in the
mud of dumb wondering, back to square one.
Though we see each other every day at
the office, we exchange nothing but polite hellos. This
continues for a week, during which time I theorize that
she is indeed juicing me for show of a little more
commitment. I hang on for another week. Still, nothing.
Finally, I can't take it anymore, so I ask her out. She
begs off, claims relatives are visiting. I try again a
few day later, and this time she turns me down cold, says
it was fun and all but why can't we just be friends?
I'm thinking, friends? She wants to be
friends? We have what I consider to be probably one of
the most intense sexual encounters of my adult career and
she want to be friends? Well sure, honey, I'd just love
to sip cappuccino with you under an umbrella and talk
about our favorite movies. Maybe we could even compare
recipes for eggplant ratatouille. Granted, I've been axed
a few times before, so logically I should've backed off,
cut my losses and got on with the day. I've been there
before. It's no big fizz. You just chalk it up to bad
judgement on her part. Could be she is the
Puccini-Wordsworth type. Who knows?
I don't back off. I go after her like
some kind of epileptic pit bull, executing every move I
know. One afternoon I bring the little kid back in, only
this time I also bring in his baby sister. Both of them
cute as buttons. Nothing from Val, not even a glance.
Next I try the lonely guy routine. I buy a German
Shepard, take it for walks by her apartment when I know
she's home. Zip. I try sick guy, stumble in the office
coughing, clothes rumpled, sleepless look of imminent
on my face. Nada. I send her flowers, chocolate truffles,
a gift certificate for three month's worth of premium
unleaded gasoline and car washes at Phil's Scrub &
Pump, but she only sends them back. So I start hitting on
Lily, the mall-haired brunette who sits across from Val,
hanging around her desk, bringing her coffee and bagels
in the morning, with three separate tubs of flavored
cream cheese, which I place in a little pyramid on top of
her monitor so Val can see how interest in my new friend
extends to the cutest details. But Val remains calm,
regards me as she would an empty office chair.
Then one afternoon as I'm tearing out
my nails over what to try next she wanders by and
casually asks me if I know anything about replacing
windows. A branch fell from a tree in her yard and took
out a few panes of glass and all the repairmen she called
are booked for weeks. It's supposed to storm again soon
and she's nervous about the plank of wood she's got over
"Windows," I say, "are
I caulk, I point, I replace. Windows
look good as new. She thanks me with an unexpected kiss
and before long we're on the floor for the belated encore
I've been dreaming about. We both call in sick the next
day and spend it in bed testing the limits of our desire,
arranging our bodies in ways that redefine what it means
to sin. I forget myself for what seems like months,
pledge to be Val's one and only for as long as she'll
have me. To my unending surprise, she returns the
sentiment and before I know it we're in front of the
judge making it stick.
The thing about decks is you've got to
keep after them. A little waterproofing, a little pest
control, a new coat of varnish now and then. You either
keep your eye on them or they'll warp on you, turn into
nothing but rows of waterlogged planks. That's what
happened to Val's when she didn't take care of it. I've
replaced almost half the boards in that deck so far and
screwed down another twenty or so. It took me a few weeks
but I'm finished now, and tonight we're having Bob and
Sally Peterson over for a barbecue. Bob's been thinking
about building a deck and I'm sure he's going to ask me
about ours. There's not that much to it I'll tell him,
you just have to keep your eye on it is all.
Waterproofing's the big thing, though. In this part of
the country the weather changes so fast, you have to stay
one step ahead. That'd be my advice, anyway.